The enduring image so many of us have of Sen. John McCain will be of that middle-of-the-night vote in 2017 when he stared down the Republican establishment and the president and voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Recently diagnosed with brain cancer, face scarred from surgery, McCain strode into the Senate chamber at 1:29 a.m. and raised his right arm. There’s no question about what happened next. McCain paused as if he was seeking to galvanize the attention of the entire nation, waved his hand to get the attention of the Senate clerk, and then in a quick gesture, flashed a thumbs-down.

There were gasps in that storied chamber. McCain’s vote saved what’s left of President Barack Obama’s signature law …

That moment was both amazing and consequential for any number of reasons. Among them, McCain solidified his standing as a singular force and a contrarian unafraid to buck the same party that had nominated him to be its presidential candidate in 2008.

What’s also notable is how rare it is to see other senators, including those who hold seats still safer than even the relatively safe seat McCain occupied for more than 30 years, doing anything similar. Quick now: Name a bold, career-defining stroke from either of Kansas’ two veteran senators during their long stints in Washington.

To be sure, Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran have waged their battles. But when it comes to independent thinking, challenging authority and having the political courage to stake out new paths, the cupboard is mostly bare. …

It’s not that McCain often strayed from the GOP reservation. …

But McCain made it count when he did diverge from his fellow Republicans. More recently, he proved to be a powerful intra-party check on a president who needs constant checking whether the issue is Russia, torture, health care or immigration. …

No party has a stranglehold on all the good ideas. No president does, either. John McCain showed an all-too-rare willingness to stand up when the moment called for it. He paid a steep price for that independence but was richly rewarded as well. To many, he was a national hero.

Other senators should learn from his legacy and try to emulate it from time to time.

The Kansas City Star